One of the best things I ever learned at an artist talk happened in the late nineties at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, for an exhibition of large paintings by local artist Carolyn Samko. She had a pragmatic, unromantic, slightly Marxist way of describing paintings that were lush, floral, and ornate. Indeed, she even suggested that her work was nothing more than the inevitable result of the studio space she maintained. The small room in her house, its capacity for storage, ventilation, light, etc. had a direct bearing on the size, subject, and configuration of her pieces. Her job was to learn what a space could produce, then go about its cultivation. Almost like gardening.
At the time of her talk, I was very much consumed by the idea of genius, of art being about how unique and shiny an idea you can generate in the limitless interior of your own head. I had faith that if an idea had merit, the universe would just hopefully allow it to be made, regardless how meager the production circumstances were. I thank Samko for setting me straight.
My first studios were small rooms or corners of small apartments set up for acrylic painting, because the clean up was easy and everything could be packed down quickly. When I shared a part of my mother’s studio, my work became more figurative and fleshy, an echo of her own sculptural practice. Years later, I relocated to a 2nd story 300sq. foot room that I rented from Bryce Kanbara near the corner of King and James. The light was bad, but it had a great window that looked out upon Hamilton’s gritty, colourful epicenter. Almost instantly the things I made became more graphic, more urban, taking in elements of public signage and city decay.
Nearly a decade ago, I began sharing a large, leaky, dusty, low-ceilinged 2nd floor space in the Victorian textile factory know either as 270 Sherman or the Cotton Factory with two other artists. Almost instantly, and completely unconsciously, I switched over fully to sculptures and assemblages of rough wood and weathered metal, and started doing more collaborative projects.
The ownership has recently changed at the Cotton Factory, the new proprietor is a Torontonian named Robert Zeidler, whose family is responsible for such influential arts spaces as the Gladstone Hotel and 401 Richmond. If you met him, he will tell you excitedly of his plans to transition the Sherman property from the modest hive of activity that it has been, into a hub of work, presentation, collaboration, and public access.
As part of this transition, my studio mates are considering a move into a smaller, brighter, higher-ceilinged space. The discussions we are having are about doing less construction, more outreach, and more presentation. There is both fear and excitement in the knowledge that such a transition will alter the work we make.
We will obviously move into a new space and modify it to suit our needs and ambitions. At the same time, whether we will be cognizant of it or not, the new space will be always working hard at modifying us.
Tor Lukasik-Foss has exhibited both individually and as part of TH&B, an artist collective of which he is a founding member (along with Ivan Jurakic, Simon Frank, and Dave Hind). He writes arts profiles and a regular column for “Hamilton Magazine”, is assiting the City of Hamilton’s Public Art Program, and has recently taught at the Dundas Valley School of Arts as a instructor in the full-time foundation and advanced studies program. The artist has been awarded the 2007 K.M. Hunter Award for Visual Arts, 2008 Visual Arts Award from the City of Hamilton, a 2009 Hamilton Music Award (Best Male Artist) four Ontario Arts Council Mid Career Visual Arts Grants, and a 2014 Canada Council Visual Art Grant. @tinybillcody